Serious Reads: Boozehound, by Jason Wilson

Book Reviews

Drinks-related books to add to the stack on your bedside table.

20100929-boozehound.jpgWhat with shrinking editorial budgets and fewer column inches to fill, it's been hard to find much spirits coverage in the newspapers in recent years. The New York Times usually runs a piece every two or three weeks (though there've been long gaps with none), and the San Francisco Chronicle still covers spirits pretty much weekly; but for the past few years, one of the more reliable sources for regular coverage of all things cocktail-related has been the Washington Post, with weekly (give or take) columns from New Jersey-based writer Jason Wilson.

Last week saw the debut of Boozehound, Wilson's book chronicling a lifetime of exploration of the world of drinks, with a special focus on the last few years when he's been trotting the globe in pursuit of spirituous splendor. For Wilson, as for many of us who wind up on the booze beat, drinks are about much more than the simple substance in the glass. "Spirits are cultural touchstones," he writes in the book's introduction. He continues,

They mark geography. They mark time. I am struck by how often I open a bottle and am transported to the particular moment when I first tasted this or that flavor or style. I'm also inevitably reminded of the people with whom I'd shared that time, place, and bottle. Thus the booze becomes a part of life, its tastes and aromas becoming intertwined with memory. Drinking, I believe, can be an aesthetic experience similar to enjoying books or art or music. Learning how to taste spirits then, becomes no different from study in any of the other humanities....

Wilson's liquor-laden journey takes him from Sambuca shots as a teenager in suburban New Jersey to the urban faux-speakeasies of the past decade to bars and distilleries in Norway, Italy, and France, where he tastes and talks about some of the most famous, and least familiar, liquors on the shelf. Along the way, Boozehound pokes holes in some of the manufactured tales of magic that are ubiquitous in the liquor industry—elderflower blossoms collected by bohemians on bicycles? Mass-produced liqueurs produced by hand in the way they've been made for centuries? Really?—and looks at trends both real and the product of wishful thinking, from the alleged prominence of pear vodka to the under-the-radar demand that led to the reappearance of once-lost products such as crème de violette.

I cover Wilson's Washington Post columns frequently in my Wednesday posts (and Wilson has responded in kind, listing a recipe for the Agavoni that he came across in Serious Eats' "Time for a Drink" column among the recommended drinks in Boozehound), and for a good reason: Wilson not only has the rare opportunity to write about spirits on such a frequent basis, but he also has a true enthusiasm and affinity for the topic, which shows in the vibrancy of his writing. Boozehound takes Wilson's Post columns several steps further, creating for the reader a more comprehensive view of today's dynamic world of drinkables.

I've enjoyed reading Wilson's columns for several years now, and Boozehound is a fantastic read as well. If you've come across a copy of Boozehound, let us know what you think.